A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Competition for the Kingdom

Years ago there were two churches in a certain community, a Methodist church and a Baptist Church.

The Baptists were temporarily without a pastor when a church deacon died. The family asked the Methodist pastor if he would conduct the funeral service.

This was the Methodist's pastor's first year in the ministry, and he felt he needed approval from the bishop of the area. So he sent a telegram asking, "May I have approval to bury a Baptist deacon?"

The bishop quickly replied with a telegram that read, "Bury all the Baptists you can!"*

Even though this story is humorous, I think it is often sadly true. One of the things that distresses me in my ministry is when I encounter clergy and laity who think their congregation is competing for members with other churches in the community. I must say that most of the time throughout my twenty-five years in ministry, I have encountered fellow clergy in the community to be very open to shared ministry between churches. But every now and then I have dealt with a pastor who refuses to be a part of anything beyond the local congregation he serves (Yes, for no particular reason it has always been a male) because he is afraid some of his "sheep" will be attracted to another congregation. I did, however, know of one pastor who liked shared ministry because he wanted to bring members of other churches to his congregation.

If anything I find the laity in general to be more resistant to shared ministry. Trying to get a shared youth ministry started is like pulling teeth. Adults are worried about losing some of their youth to other churches, even though they would gladly take young people from other congregations. And I have actually known laity who secretly rejoice when another church doesn't like its current pastor, hoping that some of those folks "over there" will end up coming "over here."

Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be. There is only one church of Jesus Christ made up of individual churches, to be sure, but it is still one Body of Christ with one mission. If the church has competition, it is not the congregation down the street, but the principalities and powers who continue to make mischief in this world, and who work their will in believers by convincing them that it's OK for them to take their children out of church for an entire summer in order to play baseball, or that God understands when we don't tithe because we have run up too much debt buying more stuff we don't need and spending too much money on our expensive hobbies. Our competition is found in those forces that have distracted believers into being distant from the church and distracted from its ministries.

No, a church's competition is not to be found in other churches. We are competing in a struggle for the place of our children's allegiance, not to another congregation, but with everything that distracts people away from their discipleship and subsequently their relationship with Jesus Christ. All Christians have a common Lord and thus a common mission-- Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, and all followers of Jesus have the same task. Let us not fight over each other's sheep, but in following the Good Shepherd, let us work to bring those not of Christ into his fold. And, as individual congregations, let us work with each other in shared ministry in a common cause.

There is one Lord Jesus Christ and one Body of Christ in this world.

*Michael E. Hodgin, 1002 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 96.


Country Parson said...

In the first year of my retirement from St. Paul's Episcopal Church, we worshiped more often at a neighboring Lutheran Church where I even filled in on a Sunday when the pastor was out of town. My successor organized a series of joint Lenten services with nearby Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Christ congregations that seemed to go over well. Years ago, when I first arrived in town, my congregation included people from other congregations that were then going through a lot of internal turmoil. I always figured they were with us only for a period of healing, and, indeed, they returned to their denominational congregations in due time. All of that is good, but it does not change the small divisions that continue to exist between liturgical and non liturgical churches, and the dramatic ones that exist between the "liberal" and "conservative" churches.

doodlebugmom said...

Well said.

I live in a small town. When my daughter won a big scholarship (announced at graduation) the first person to come up, hug and congratulate me on being a great parent was Pastor Doug, not my pastor. Boy was I surprised, he knew me and my kids. Our church's youth groups had done a lot together in the past.

My kids also teach VBS at the Lutheran Church every summer. The pastor there also knows all of us. too. But then I have to laugh at the pastor of the church I just left, the day my youngest daughhter got confirmed, he didn't even know here name. :O

Andy B. said...

Allan - Amen and amen!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I've seen the shared youth program issue first hand more than once.

It all gets back to the question about what we are here for. Much of the time, we are so caught up in our needs and wants that we forget that the church is not a self-help society.

Allan R. Bevere said...


"The church is not a self-help society."

Absolutely right!